Uzbekistan, a dynamically developing democratic society
In the last parliamentary elections, you were a member of the Central Election Commission (CEC). What was your role in the CEC and what is your analysis of the elections carried under the new electoral code adopted in June 2019?
First of all, it should be noted that these elections were of historical importance, which testified to the irreversibility of the path of adopted reforms. As a person seeing the inner mechanism of the electorate campaign, I would say that the process left a lasting impression on me.
Encountering the positive achievements, I would note that the 2019 Elections led to the formation of a new Parliament and local governments, which are among the most important factors of political accountability in a democratic state. The new generation of senators and MPs has come: youthful, open-minded, they have energy and strength to exercise authority to make meaningful changes in the system.
Secondly, the elections became the first political campaign after the adopted reforms by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, this is practically a manifestation of the will of the people to support the ongoing reforms in Uzbekistan.
Openness and transparency were our main goals, and I think we have been able to achieve them. I was assigned to work closely with the local and international observers to ensure their full independence, unhindered participation, and monitoring as well as the provision of access to information.
I was incredibly satisfied with the progress made in the involvement of the observers, the active participation of whom presents an essential component of fair elections. Following the statistics, about 60,000 observers of political parties, more than 10,000 observers of citizens' self-government bodies (Mahalla), 1,155 representatives of local and foreign media took part in the monitoring process. In addition, along with local observers, first-time accreditation was granted to a full-fledged OSCE / ODIHR observer mission, and a total of 825 international observers were registered.
For an objective assessment, we may refer for an example to the Final Report presented by the OSCE / ODIHR Mission, which says that the elections were held against the backdrop of improved legislation and increased tolerance for independent opinions. The report assessed the work of the CEC of the Republic of Uzbekistan positively, saying it "made great efforts for better preparation for the parliamentary elections." It is amazing to see the results of the work done.
Third, the past elections set a new precedent and a new standard for the next elections. Of course, I cannot say that everything during the elections was as smooth as we would like to be, but both the objectives achieved and challenges faced have been taken into account and analyzed and now we have work to do.
Overall, I believe that the adoption of the new electoral code has brought significant positive changes to the electoral system of the Republic of Uzbekistan, and I can confidently say that it has initiated further reforms aimed at strengthening our democracy.
How is the ongoing reform process in Uzbekistan altering and improving the relationship between the citizens and the state?
Today, Uzbekistan is a country that has turned into a dynamically developing democratic and legal society. The election of the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev gave a new impetus to the large-scale reforms in many spheres of our life. As a citizen directly being influenced by the reforms conducted and seeing the results gained I would point out the following changes.
First, the state policy of increasing cooperation and settling existing issues concerning the relationship between the citizens and the government. Under the leadership of the President, it has embarked on a path to ambitious reforms aimed at ensuring open communication of the government with citizens. The first step of these reforms started with 2017 being declared as the “Year of dialogue with people and human interests.”
What we witness in practice, is the establishment of the special online platform where people can leave their complaints and suggestions for the improvement of public institutions and officials’ performance. I am very glad that now officials can immediately react to the complaints and suggestions of the population.
The interaction of citizens with government services has been simplified through the universally organized “people's receptions” at the local level and “single window” public services system, which significantly reduced bureaucratic barriers and made it possible to more efficiently and in a shorter time solve the problems of citizens in various spheres.
Second, ongoing reforms have strengthened the role of parliament and transferred powers to local levels of government. Parliamentarians now have an influential role to play in strengthening democracy and building quality and effective dialogue with the people. It should be noted the special role of the parliament in the systematic work carried out in the country. Thanks to the system created, the range of tasks and powers of the government has been expanded, its responsibility increased, and reporting to Parliament strengthened.
Third, and what we witnessed in recent times is that mass media indeed turned into a powerful instrument, the fourth estate, which may strongly influence all the decision making processes in the country. The transparency of the activities of state bodies is now ensured through the conduct of open televised debates, during which each citizen can ask any questions. I also find it very important that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the population has full access to information through a large number of informational websites, social media pages, and other sources.
Fourth, significantly increased the role and importance of civil institutions in solving the most important tasks of the country's socio-economic development, increasing the public activity of people, and ensuring a balance of interests in society. The conditions for the development of civil society have been created, as well as the number of non-governmental organizations is increasing.
Fifth, special attention is paid to supporting women’s rights: shelters for victims of domestic violence are open and actively functioning in each region, where they are provided with material, psychological and other support according to their needs. To date, about 30% of homeowners in ADB's housing project are women.
Finally, I also cannot help pointing out the positive changes in the sphere of religious freedom which have been confirmed by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) which for the first time in 15 years does not classify Uzbekistan as a country of particular concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Indeed, with 16 confessions present in Uzbekistan, people enjoy religious freedom not only on paper.
Overall, my high expectations from the reforms conducted were met, and I find the changes very effective on the way of the establishment of open dialogue in state-citizens relations.
What opportunities do you think the new EU-Central Asia Strategy offers for strengthened EU-Uzbekistan relations?
Unfolding brave and deep reforms in Uzbekistan created a new impetus for the development of bilateral ties. Cooperation with the EU and European countries, based on the principles of mutual respect and trust, is one of the foremost priorities of Uzbekistan’s foreign policy. An Agreement on expanded partnership and cooperation is at the stage of negotiations.
I am convinced that despite geographic remoteness, great opportunities exist for the promotion of our advanced economic, political, and cultural relations with the European Union. Considering the extensive experience and knowledge of many European states with established market economies, Uzbekistan can learn the best European practices in reforming public institutions, preparation system for the public servants, empowerment of political parties, provision of the gender balance, etc.
EU provides assistance with the following relevant issues in Uzbekistan:
First, supporting the country's accession to the WTO, which will help to improve international competitiveness and its integration into global value chains;
Second, expanding collaboration in the digital economy, focusing on expanding access to affordable, open and secure broadband connections and digital infrastructure, promoting digital literacy and skills, developing digital entrepreneurship and job creation, as well as developing areas such as e-government and online education;
Third, Uzbekistan is actively working to create a healthy and open investment climate, develop a competitive private sector, as well as skills, research, and innovation, especially among young people.
One of the outstanding examples of effective collaboration in the sphere of education is a new Joint Master's program with Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees-2020. The University of World Economy and Diplomacy entered the new consortium of "International Law of Global Security, Peace, and Development" as associate partners with European universities.
Fourth, one of the main goals of the European Union, which it seeks to achieve through the new strategy, is to strengthen security in Central Asia, the development of cooperation between Afghanistan and the countries of Central Asia. Uzbekistan is aware that the achievement of peace and stability in Afghanistan is a decisive factor not only for regional but also for global security. Both sides are clearly aware of common objectives in fighting against extremism, religious radicalism, international terrorism, and other transnational threats against peace and stability.
Fifth, Uzbekistan is implementing projects related to the sustainable management of natural resources, employment, and income generation in rural areas. In accordance with the "Multiannual Indicative Program for Uzbekistan for 2014-2020" approved by the European Commission the priority direction of cooperation in this period was chosen to promote the development of rural regions, the potential of which has large reserves and its development can play a key role in solving issues of employment, increasing the level of welfare, food security and protection of natural resources.
There is no doubt that the new European Union’s Central Asian Strategy as well as the Agreement on expanded partnership and cooperation between EU and Uzbekistan will provide new quality to our cooperation. Our European partners can have no doubt that peace and stability as well as sustainable development in modernizing Uzbekistan are firmly guaranteed.
Member of the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Uzbekistan
Vice-Rector for Science and Innovation of the University of World Economy and Diplomacy
Doctor of Law Sciences